Man On The Moon

By: Nathan Reid-Welford

Tags: No Eye Has Seen Winter 2023

The man in the moon looked down on the travelers, a guide to their journey, a curious eye, and a non-partisan witness to the predicament that their own actions had put them in. His rays washed over the streets, reflecting off the concrete and pavement of suburbia, muted against lawns, and blending with the artificial glow of streetlights. The way of the group was a mad dash of jarring and confusing twists and turns through the maze of homes, but still he lit their path. 

As the group sprinted down the road their footsteps struck the asphalt like hammers. One by one they cut across a corner lot. First, came Cooper. Sweat glistened on his face. Sandy curls protruded from the brim of his reversed baseball cap and bobbed back and forth with each stride. His exhalations mixed with the cool evening breeze of spring, leaving small clouds of vapour to disappear in his wake. Next was Andrew. His heart rattled against his ribs; each beat visible through his lanky frame. He moved quickly, at least quicker than expected considering the amount of excess liquid that sloshed around in his stomach from earlier in the night. His eyes bulged with concern. Last came Gavin, who laboured around the turn. His broad frame heaved, choking in air, trying his best to keep up with his counterparts.

Behind them, tires buzzed as a car shot down the street in hot pursuit. Seconds behind the group, the driver barely slowed for a stop sign, conceding only a fraction of speed, before dangerously rounding the corner the boys had just cut across. The fleeing figures seemed like deer in its headlights. The trio dashed across the road, the rev of the engine behind them spurred them on.

The group hadn’t been running long. Only a couple minutes before they had been strolling through the neighbourhood. And half an hour ago they had been in their dormitory. But then its cramped and unkept walls could no longer satisfy their energetic personalities or entertain their crave for nighttime shenanigans. Spring had set in, and summer was calling. Gone were the brisk winter months that had ushered them indoors. Exams were all that stood between them and summer’s seductive touch. They felt it in the occasional warmth of the breeze, and the sun that hovered on the horizon for precious extra minutes.

The friends had left the borders of their university campus and ventured into the surrounding subdivision. Out in the open they were uncontained. Laughter filled the air, dares began. Reckless abandon got the better of them. And the man in the moon, if he had initially taken any interest in their seemingly predictable travels, had seen everything unfold, and now certainly looked on with moderate interest, curious how it would play out. 

Cooper and Andrew shot out onto another street. Gavin pumped his legs forcing himself not to fall too far behind. The car pumped its brakes, leaving tire marks around the bend as its engine purred, seeking another burst of speed.

Andrew caught up to Cooper. “This guy’s not gonna quit!” His voice was strained through heavy breaths. “We’ve gotta lose him!”

“I know!” They kept moving down another block. 

“He can’t follow us everywhere!” Cooper shouted. Then they saw it. Running parallel to them; short glimpses of a concrete structure visible through the gap between houses. They were near the highway! Near the sound wall!

“Let’s jump the wall!” yelled Cooper. 

A screech behind them prompted a glance over the shoulder. Their pursuer drifted around the corner. With the ensuing straightaway he’d catch up soon.

“We gotta go!” Cooper veered to the right, into a yard, Andrew on his heels. 

They darted down the side of a house and into the shadow of the sound barrier. A shed leaned against the structure. 

Cooper climbed onto it and reached the top of the wall. Propelling himself with his legs he pulled himself upward. He spun around and with a grunt disappeared. The engine was getting closer. Andrew heard Gavin’s shaky breath as he came into view, desperately charging after his friends. 

“Quick, quick,” Andrew urged. 

Gavin repeated a near carbon copy of Cooper’s climb, just more strained. Then Andrew pulled himself onto the shed. He looked out at the gap between the houses. Streetlights glowed against their brick, a tunnel of light that seemed to point right at him. The car skidded to a stop. The driver hastily exited and in a flash was around the car and coming toward Andrew. 

“You think you can knock on my door at 1 a.m.!” He fumed. “You think you can do whatever you want!”

Andrew clutched the top of the barrier. The concrete, contoured and weathered from years of abuse from rain and wind, was harsh on his hands. Chips and grooves underneath the smooth and cold olive coloured accumulation of moss, fitted to the wall almost like a finish, scraped his skin. As the man shouted and rushed toward the wall, Andrew hoisted himself up and, with the onlooking gaze of the moon silhouetting him against the dark backdrop of night, and the cool breeze freezing him in place momentarily for a portrait, he dropped over the wall. 

Unkempt bushes softened his landing. As he composed himself and stood, he heard the man yelling. 

“You’re really gonna run away like that!? Just you wait till I get over there!”

Hands banged on the shed before another voice cut through the air, slightly further away, but just as loud. “What are you doing on my property?!”

There was a pause. Then the man spoke up. “These stupid kids knocked on my door and jumped the wall! I’m not letting them get aw—” 

“You’re waking my family up! Get out of my yard!”

“But,” the first man’s voice came, certainly about to launch into further explanation. Andrew scurried away. The voices faded into the ether, the drone of vehicles passing on the highway drowning them out. 

He caught up to Cooper and Gavin further ahead. Cooper leaned against the wall, hunched over, hands on his knees. He took long, slow breaths. Gavin lay on the ground, hoarse breaths escaping his gaping mouth. 

“Did we lose ‘im?” Cooper asked. 

“Yeah,” replied Andrew. 

“Thank God,” Gavin gasped. “I need another minute.”

The friends rested against the wall in silence. A contorted patch of dead trees in front of them diverted the intrusive headlights of vehicles that sped down the parkway.  

Cooper’s voice cut through the whir of tires. “That’s one way to forget about exams.”

They laughed. 

Gavin stood. “Exams will be easier than that. And I’m stupid!”

Laughter crackled again. The breeze rustled the grass. 

“Where to now?” asked Andrew. He looked at the wall. “I don’t think we’ll be able to climb back over. There’s nothing to stand on. Plus, buddy might be waiting.” 

Cooper consulted his phone. “Hey Gavin. If we walk back to campus this way, we’ll pass Isaac’s house. The night’s still young.” He laughed and showed him the screen.

“Let’s see what he’s up to. And you mean our future house,” said Gavin smirking as he looked at the screen. He slapped Andrew on the back. “You’ll finally get to see where your boys are living next year.”

Andrew stared at the highway and nodded slowly. His lips parted but no words came out, the breeze blowing away any syllable that exited before they could form a coherent sound. 

“I’ll tell him we’re coming. Let’s go,” said Cooper. 

The group set off, trudging through the no man’s land between highway and homes. They hugged the sound barrier as they went, trotting in its shadow. Dry stalks of grass scratched their ankles. Branches provided cover from cars but slashes at their outstretched arms were the price. Feet slipped as the ground angled toward the ditch, footsteps hindered by patches of mud. Breath rasped. The man in the moon peaked over loose stones at the top of the wall, still curious about their travels, guiding them, watching them. The breeze pushed them onward, firm but gentle hands on their backs.

Further on, they came across a crumbled section of the barrier beside an encroaching overpass. They shimmied through.

Emerging on the other side of the sound wall they climbed up to the next road. Fully emerged, they bathed in the moon’s bright silver sheen. Their shadows stretched far behind them at curious angles down the hill.

They stared into another iteration of suburbia. It looked the same as the section they had just hastily escaped. Houses sat, quiet ebony squares of life and feeble security, each its own unique oasis and holding cell. Their collective mechanical whir permeated the air. Sidewalks promised destinations but never arrived anywhere, making for a mischievous or mundane existence. If the group was smart, they were done with mischief for the night. 

Cooper checked his phone and pointed ahead. “That way. And Isaac said we’d better be ready to have fun.”

“What does he think we’ve been doing all night?” chuckled Gavin.

Andrew shook his head. “I don’t know if I feel like partying after all that.”

The wind sighed in response. 

Cooper and Gavin jogged across the road with Andrew trailing slowly behind. The neighbourhoods enticing and innocent grasp soon swallowed them up. Cooper led the way. 

As they passed under a streetlight the boys’ shadows stretched out in front of them, clear and definitive shapes dancing over the pavement. They slowly rotated with the light, briefly standing beside the group, then following, silent onlookers nodding along. But the shadows could never quite keep up. Even when they stretched on ahead, their steps laboured, slowly but inevitably being overtaken. The strong and definitive beings of a moment ago wavered and withered. Then the shadows disappeared completely, strewn across the pavement, the curb, blown into rusty and neglected sewer drains, scattered across lawns, left to melt into the grass with the last of the snow and replaced by others before the sun came up in the morning.

Cooper and Gavin turned down another road with Andrew on their tail. Cars were parked along the curb. Faint music sounded up ahead. Cooper and Gavin turned onto a driveway. 

“Heyyy!” Cooper outstretched his arms in greeting.

“You guys had a crazy night, didn’t you?” Isaac stood at the sidewalk. “Well I hope you’ve still got some energy.”

“I never run out,” laughed Gavin.

“Yeah, you’re the life of the party. Can’t wait till you two are living here with me next semester!”

Andrew reached the driveway a little behind his counterparts. As he got there the three turned around and headed to the door, continuing their conversation. 

Andrew took a few steps forward then stopped. He watched Cooper and Gavin climb up the stairs, laughing with Isaac before disappearing inside. Pausing at the edge of the road he shook his head. He considered his view. He shared it with the man in the moon. They both saw the exterior, the brick and mortar, the foundation. They saw the fluorescent light from the front window shining out onto the street. But like the man in the moon, Andrew was an unwanted guest, someone who wasn’t invited in, only able to perceive the outside structure, not the life within, the life that people he thought were friends were creating—and would continue to create. 

Andrew turned around. He slunk down the road, heading toward campus. With each step he felt his stride waver. He was merely a shadow stretched beyond its bounds, that, once prominent and strong, had begun to drift into obscurity. The shadow passed beneath a streetlamp and was washed away by its artificial glow. The breeze scattered its invisible fragments across the road and yards. As the shadow dispersed, the boy joined the man in the moon. From his new vantage point, the boy peered at the earth below, a silent and unseen witness to the ones he had left behind. But despite the light of the moon, he could not see a trace of himself, and was left to wonder if he had ever cast a shadow at all.